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This study explores the relationship between interaction rituals, student engagement with science, and learning environments modeled on communities of practice based on an ethnographic study of an eighth grade urban magnet school classroom. It compares three interactional events in order to examine the classroom conditions and teacher practices that can foster successful interaction rituals (IRs), which are characterized by high levels of emotional energy, feelings of group membership, and sustained interest in the subject. Classroom conditions surrounding the emergence of successful IRs included mutual focus, familiar symbols and activity structures, the permissibility of some side-talk, and opportunities for physical and emotional entrainment. Sustained interest in the topic beyond the duration of the IR and an increase in students’ helping each other learn occurred more frequently when the mutual focus consisted of science-related symbols, when there were low levels of risk for participants, when activities involved sufficient challenge and time, and when students were positioned as knowledgeable and competent in science. The results suggest that successful interaction rituals can foster student engagement with topics that may not have previously held interest and can contribute to students’ support of peers’ learning, thereby moving the classroom toward a community-of-practice model.


This is the accepted version of the following article: Olitsky, S. (2007). Promoting student engagement in science: Interaction rituals and the pursuit of a community of practice. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(1), 33-56, which has been published in final form at